Skip to comments.Lee Harris: The Politics of the Gang
Posted on 03/02/2004 11:13:41 AM PST by quidnunc
In my book, Civilization and Its Enemies, I argue that all successful civilizations tend to forget just how difficult it was for their ancestors to rise to a civilized state. Furthermore, I argue that if the civilization is spectacularly successful, as ours has been, it even begins to nurture the collective illusion that human beings come into the world predisposed to live harmoniously together. We get along fine, and so naturally we are puzzled when others don't. What makes them butcher each other, we wonder, when in fact the real question should be, What keeps us from doing the same thing?
As the proverb goes, A picture is worth a thousand words, and in Haiti today there are enough gruesome pictures to challenge many volumes of utopian political theory, regardless of whether these utopias emanate from the libertarian fantasies of the right or the cosmopolitan fantasies of the left. For the problem with all of these flights of political imagination is that they refuse to take seriously what is right before their eyes in the TV images coming from Haiti the hideous and obscene truth about the origins of political power.
Over a hundred years ago, the great French historian Albert Sorel wrote:
" the origins of power must be veiled . The mystery whereby the naked fact becomes legitimate right is something to be decently hidden from the sights of men. These are regions of fearful mist ."
And, he might have added, regions of appalling butchery and ruthless aggression.
In Civilization and Its Enemies, I have tried to lift up this veil and to show what lies behind it, and what I found was not a group of enlightened men and women entering under John Rawls' Veil of Ignorance in order to form the correct principle of justice, nor John Locke's prudent and calculatingly self-interested businessmen devising a workable community. Instead what I discovered was exactly what you would discover if you happened by some terrible misfortune to find yourself alone in the streets of Port-au-Prince right now, namely, swarming and ragtag troops of boys and young men, all of them willing to perform actions that no civilized man or woman could even imagine themselves doing, and all of them brandishing guns and knives and clubs.
(Excerpt) Read more at techcentralstation.com ...
Haiti should be a sobering lesson to those who entertain the fantasy of libertarianism. If the state is the ultimate source of evil, then what is turning all these boys into butchers? It should also be an equally sobering lesson to those intellectuals who urge us to pledge our allegiance to the community of all the men and women on the planet does this community include the roving teenage gangs of Haiti or of Liberia? And if not, what do you do with them? Do you force them to attend seminars on political ethics presided over by Martha Nussbaum and Noam Chomsky?
Just so, libertarians are from the planet Goofy!
On my reading, the boys' gang is both the first form that political power takes and the form that political power again assumes whenever there has been a complete breakdown of established authority.
The willingness to take risks, to act ruthlessly, to obey unthinkingly the general will of the gang -- all of these make the boys' gang by far the most formidable source of power in a world in which anarchy is the rule; and the reason for this is not hard to see.
When societies break down into anarchy, the normal channels of trust and allegiance are no longer operative. Each individual is cut off and isolated from the other individuals who are normally in his life; each seeks to hide himself from view, to lie low, to stay away from the windows, and certainly out of the streets. But this centrifugal tendency of the average person runs in the exact opposite direction from the centripetal tendency of the boys' gang. Under such circumstances, normal individuals fly apart, while teenage boys and young men collect together. And, before long, the only safety to be found is the safety in numbers of the gang. The gang rules.
They are ruling in Haiti right now.
...That is the world out of which our civilization somehow managed to emerge; and it is the harsh baseline to which all collapsing civilizations eventually return.
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His articles at the TechCentralStation are archived here: http://www2.techcentralstation.com/1051/searchauthor.jsp?Bioid=BIOHARRISLEE
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This nation used to be a Republic. Sadly, we have degenerated into a 'democracy'.
"Haiti should be a sobering lesson to those who entertain the fantasy of libertarianism.
If the state is the ultimate source of evil,"
Whoa right there! Who says the 'state' has to be evil? Not libertarians.
-- Using our constitution, state power can be controlled to prevent evil..
"then what is turning all these boys into butchers?"
The downfall of a dictatorial state is allowing mob rule. Soon, the mobs will kill each other off, and eventually wiser men will reestablish some type of government. Hopefully a constitutional libertarian republic, although we won't hold our breath.
"It should also be an equally sobering lesson to those intellectuals who urge us to pledge our allegiance to the community of all the men and women on the planet does this community include the roving teenage gangs of Haiti or of Liberia? And if not, what do you do with them? Do you force them to attend seminars on political ethics presided over by Martha Nussbaum and Noam Chomsky?"
Just so, libertarians are from the planet Goofy!
Squid, your remark is just as goofy as Harris's.
What is it that fuels your hate for constitutional republics?
Lee Harris classics. If you have time, read these articles:
His new book: Civilization and Its Enemies : The Next Stage of History